READING, Mass. -- Tewksbury is not a flashy team by any means, lacking a big-play threat through the air that strikes fear in the hearts of opponents. That’s okay, because it did not need one Tuesday in its 21-6 victory over Reading.
Tewksbury moves on to the Division 2 Super Bowl Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against Duxbury at Gillette Stadium.
Its ability to sustain drives set itself apart from Reading (8-4) for most of the game. Reading struck first when Drew Belcher hit Ryan Maney for a 70-yard touchdown when Maney burned the Tewksbury defensive backs on a post route in the middle of the field. Reading ran five consecutive running plays, which helped sucked the defense in to defending the run, allowing Maney to run free when called upon.
Tewksbury (7-5) answered back with a three-minute drive that was capped off by an 11-yard touchdown pass from Kevin Saunders to Chris Bettano (21 carries, 72 yards). After each team had an unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt, they went into the half tied at 6.
After Reading punted on its opening drive to start the third quarter, Tewksbury had a four-minute drive that was capped off by a 9-yard Bettano touchdown run. Saunders made what was the most jaw-dropping play of the day on the two-point conversion.
He took the snap and ran to the right, looking for a hole to open up, but quickly saw that none were available. In an attempt to change direction, he avoided one shoe-string tackle and headed back to the left side of the field. Along the way, he got help from two key blocks on defenders that appeared to be chasing him down from behind. Finally, when he was running out of real estate, he cut up towards the endzone and plowed his way through a group to get in for what probably was the hardest two-point conversion he’s had all season.
Reading failed to turn its next drive into points and was forced to punt back to Tewksbury. All the Redmen did was execute an 8:14 drive spanning two quarters, taking most of the fourth quarter away from Reading.
Unfortunately for Tewksbury, it did not score on that drive. Bettano fumbled into the Reading endzone as he was trying to score and put the game away, but it was recovered by the Rockets.
“In every single big game we’ve had this year, we’ve been able to (sustain long drives),” Tewksbury head coach Brian Aylward said. “These kids are savvy enough to know and understand situations and how important that is. We talk all the time about having an elevated sense of urgency when we need a big play. At the beginning of the year their idea of a big play was a third-and-forever, now they understand how important a second-and-eight is. That’s an important play at that point in the game.”
On the fist play after the touchback, Saunders, playing linebacker, tipped Belcher’s pass into the air and his teammate, Derrick Tarpey, came down with the interception.
He returned it to the Reading 10-yard line and a few plays later, Daniel Altavesta (8 carries, 30 yards) punched in a touchdown to put the game away for good.
--- On Tewksbury’s 8:14 drive, it was 3-for-3 on 3rd down conversions. Aylward credited his offensive line’s conditioning for allowing the offense to keep the drive moving when the team needed it the most.
“Their conditioning has to be good because they aren’t the biggest guys,” he said. “These guys have worked awfully hard to stay in shape and be in a position where they can play for 40 minutes and I’m just so proud of them. I think they’re all tough guys and they’re going to go down as a special group here, regardless of what happens.”
--- Coming from the Merrimack Valley Conference, Tewksbury is very familiar with the intricacies of the spread offense and how to defend it. It used that knowledge to its full advantage Tuesday, keeping the Reading rushing attack to only 49 yards on the ground and Belcher to 10-of-22 for 132 yards, one touchdown, and an interception. “We’ve seen similar-type offenses over the course of the year so we were somewhere comfortable playing against the spread,” said Aylward. “Our league offers us a lot, and one of those things is you get an awful lot of different looks. (Reading) does a lot of different things on offense and I think our guys went out there and executed the gameplan. We had one breakdown and that hurt us, so we knew a breakdown against a team the quality of Reading would exploit that and they did. Every time we made a mistake they hurt us for a first down or a big touchdown.”
TEWKSBURY 21, READING 6
TEW --- 0 - 6 - 8 - 7 --- 21
REA --- 0 - 6 - 0 - 0 --- 6
R - Ryan Maney 70-yard pass from Drew Belcher (2-point conversion failed)
T - Chris Bettano 11-yard pass from Kevin Saunders (2-point conversion failed)
T - Bettano 9-yard run (Saunders 2-point conversion run good)
T - Daniel Altavesta 4-yard run (Matt Blaisdell kick good)